‘Poor man’s version of Don King’: Trump continues his war of words with LaVar Ball
President Trump began the day before Thanksgiving on Twitter, calling out those who he claims have not, in fact, given him their proper thanks. His target, again: LaVar Ball, who Trump had previously called “very ungrateful” for the president’s help in …
Trump lashes out at Ball, says he is an ‘Ungrateful fool!’The Hill
‘Poor man’s Don King’: Trump takes aim at hoops dad LaVar Ball as feud escalatesFox News
Trump labels father of UCLA player an ‘ungrateful fool’ABC News
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Some internet companies were expected to put up a fight to prevent the proposal from taking hold. The Internet Association, an industry group, joined a legal effort in 2015 to protect the existing rules. The agency has already received 20 million public comments, many of them in opposition of changing the rules, since Mr. Pai announced the broad outlines of his thinking early this year.
The big companies that provide internet access to phones and computers have fought for years against broadband regulations. Under the new plan, broadband providers will be able to block access, slow down or speed up service for its business partners in some cases — as long as they notify customers.
“This action will return broadband in the U.S. to a regulatory regime that emphasizes private investment and innovation over lumbering government intervention,” said Joan Marsh, a vice president at AT&T.
Big online companies like Google and Facebook say the repeal proposal would allow telecom companies to play favorites by charging customers for accessing some sites or by slowing speeds to others. The existing rules were written to prevent such arrangements, adopting a policy often called net neutrality.
“We are disappointed that the proposal announced today by the F.C.C. fails to maintain the strong net neutrality protections that will ensure the internet remains open for everyone,” Erin Egan, a vice president at Facebook, said in a statement. “We will work with all stakeholders committed to this principle.”
Small online companies believe the proposal would hurt innovation, because telecom companies could force them to pay more for the faster connections. Only the largest companies, they say, would be able to afford the expense of making sure their sites received preferred treatment. Companies like Etsy and Pinterest, for example, credit their start to the promise of free and open access on the internet.
And consumers, the online companies say, may see their costs go up if, for example, they want high-quality access to popular websites like Netflix, a company that depends on fast connections for its streaming videos. Netflix said on Tuesday that it opposed Mr. Pai’s proposal.
The action “represents the end of net neutrality as we know it and defies the will of millions of Americans,” said Michael Beckerman, chief executive of the Internet Association, a lobbying group that represents Google, Facebook, Amazon and other tech companies.
Mr. Pai said the current rules had been adopted to stop only theoretical harm. He said the rules limit consumer choice because telecom companies cannot offer different tiers of service, for example. As a result, he said, internet service companies cannot experiment with new business models that could help them compete with online businesses like Netflix, Google and Facebook.
“It’s depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation,” Mr. Pai said Tuesday.
Comcast, one of the country’s biggest broadband companies, said it would not slow websites that contain legally permitted material.
“We do not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content — and we will be transparent with our customers about these policies,” the company said.
In a call with reporters, F.C.C. officials said the blocking and slowing of some content could be seen as anticompetitive. Those practices, they said, would be policed by the Federal Trade Commission or the Justice Department.
The plan to repeal the existing rules, passed in 2015, would reverse a hallmark decision by the agency to consider broadband a public utility, as essential as phones and electricity. The earlier decision created the legal foundation for the current rules and underscored the importance of high-speed internet service. It was put in place by Tom Wheeler, an F.C.C. chairman under President Obama.
Mr. Pai, who was appointed chairman by President Trump in January, has eliminated numerous regulations during his first year.
The agency has stripped down rules governing television broadcasters, newspapers and telecom companies that were meant to protect the public interest. On Tuesday, in addition to the net neutrality rollback, Mr. Pai announced a plan to eliminate a rule limiting any corporation from controlling broadcasts that can reach more than 39 percent of American homes.
The fight over net neutrality could end up being one of his biggest and most fraught decisions. For more than a decade, the agency has struggled with how to regulate internet service, leading to extended legal battles. The rules adopted under Mr. Wheeler were upheld in 2016 by a federal appeals court in Washington.
The proposal released on Tuesday will probably make its way to court as well. And companies like Google and Facebook are expected to push the public to speak out against the plan. They coordinated a huge online protest against the possible changes in July.
Some of the lobbying could take place in Congress, even though it may change little because Republicans control both houses. Nevertheless, Democrats have vowed to try to reconstruct the strict rules adopted by the F.C.C. in 2015.
The next three weeks promise to hold intense lobbying from both sides, but that might not be the end of it. The regulation of internet providers has already swung once on a change in the Oval Office.
“As good as the F.C.C.’s action is for I.S.P.s, it only assures nonregulation of broadband through 2020,” said Paul Gallant, an analyst at the research firm Cowen.
Continue reading the main story
The Hill–16 hours ago
Mueller continues to gather evidence and pursue investigative leads, as shown by steps like a subpoena he sent to more than a dozen Trump campaign operatives in October, according to the official with knowledge of the investigation, who requested anonymity to speak about sensitive matters.
Ty Cobb, the top White House lawyer handling the probe, has been consistently optimistic about Mueller’s probe and its likely outcome, predicting the investigative cloud hanging over Trump and the White House should clear by early next year. “The office of special counsel is working diligently to complete its interviews” and the White House has been cooperating with the investigation to expedite its conclusion, Cobb said in an interview.
But the official with knowledge of the investigation, as well as outside legal experts, made clear that months of work still lie ahead for Mueller. For one thing, Mueller indicted Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, last month, as well as another campaign aide, Rick Gates, on charges of money laundering and other crimes. Manafort and Gates have said they aren’t guilty, and Mueller’s litigation against them is expected to continue well into 2018, the official said.
Mueller was given a broad mandate when he was appointed by the Justice Department in May to investigate whether Trump or any of his associates colluded with Russia as well as any other matters arising from that inquiry.
To build his case, Mueller has had to pursue multiple investigate angles beyond the White House, a second U.S. official said. Those include potential obstruction of justice related to Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, financial dealings in the U.S. and abroad by Trump family members and associates, and Moscow’s efforts to manipulate Facebook and other social media platforms, the official said.
“This investigation will continue through 2018,” said Jeffery Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who is now managing director for Berkeley Research Group LLC.
“It seems like the White House is setting up a straw man and groundless expectations,” Cramer said. “The only running clock is the statute of limitations on any potential charges.”
Cobb has said he expects interviews with White House staff to wrap up shortly after Thanksgiving and that the vast majority of documents requested from the White House by Mueller were handed over last month.
The first official said it’s possible that Mueller’s team of more than two dozen prosecutors and FBI agents will complete an opening round of interviews with key Trump aides who worked in the White House by the end of the year, but additional interviews could be scheduled later.
Among those who have been interviewed are former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, former spokesman Sean Spicer and National Security Council chief of staff Keith Kellogg, according to people familiar with the investigation. Mueller has also indicated he wants to speak with White House Counsel Don McGahn and communications director Hope Hicks, said another person close to the inquiry.
The recent subpoena was intended to ensure that Mueller receives all the documents he’s seeking, the first official said. Mueller’s next step is to review the materials to determine whether additional subpoenas are needed or new lines of investigation need to be opened, the official said.
The indictment against Manafort and Gates demonstrates that Mueller is methodically building cases that take time, said the second U.S. official, who also asked to remain anonymous.
Flynn, Trump Jr.
Others whose activity is under investigation include Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the second official said.
Mueller also revealed last month that he secured a cooperating witness — George Papadopoulos, a junior foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of his contacts with Russian operatives.
“Did Papadopoulos record any conversations after he pleaded guilty?” Cramer, the former prosecutor, asked. “Will Manafort cooperate to spare himself some potential prison time?”
Mueller has staffed his team “with some of the best investigators, former prosecutors, and an individual from the solicitor general’s office who has argued more Supreme Court cases than most anyone,” Cramer said. “This team was not established to take an easy plea on lying to the FBI and Manafort’s money laundering, tax evasion, and lack of proper filings.”
There’s no end in sight for Mueller probe
President Donald Trump’s lawyer says the criminal investigation into possible collusion with Russia in last year’s election could be over by December, but Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is expected to continue well into next year, according to …
WATCH: Watergate prosecutor literally laughs at Trump lawyer’s ‘fantasy’ that Muellerinvestigation is endingRaw Storyall 6 news articles »
Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
The Russian President Vladimir Putin held unannounced talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier this week ahead of a summit being held today in the Russian city of Sochi with the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss the post-conflict scenario in Syria. Nathan Hodge reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Russian officials have stated that their aim is to ensure Assad’s support for a political process, however Assad has been resistant to granting any sort of concession to the Syrian opposition and it is unclear how far Russia would be willing to push Assad to compromise; according to a Trump administration official, the issue of a political transition was not raised during Putin’s call to Trump yesterday, which took place after Assad and Putin’s meeting. Anne Barnard reports at the New York Times.
Russia’s efforts comes as the U.S. effectively granted Russia a leading role in diplomatic initiatives this month in return for an acceptance of a continued U.S. role in Syria and, during Trump and Putin’s phone call yesterday, Putin explained that he had secured a commitment from Assad to cooperate with Russia’s initiatives, and Putin and Trump emphasized their commitment to a political settlement in Syria through the framework of the U.N.-backed peace process in Geneva. Liz Sly, Louisa Loveluck and David Filipov report at the Washington Post.
Putin also spoke with Saudi King Salman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in phone calls yesterday, according to a source in Netanyahu’s office, Putin and Netanyahu discussed Iran’s attempts to expand its influence in Syria and Israel’s opposition to this possibility. Katya Golubkova and Tom Perry report at Reuters.
The U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura called on Syrian opposition groups to come as a united delegation for Geneva talks on Nov. 28, making the comments today at the opening of a three-day conference of Syrian opposition groups being held in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, the AP reports.
“There is no solution to the crisis without a Syrian consensus that would achieve the demands of the Syrian people” within the framework of the Geneva process and U.N. Security Council resolution 2254, the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said today at the conference in Riyadh. Reuters reports.
A series of Syrian government airstrikes on the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area have killed dozens of people since the forces launched an offensive on the Damascus suburb – which is covered by a Russia, Turkey and Iran-brokered de-escalation agreement –last week, leaving residents fearing that they would be forced to surrender in a similar fashion to the surrender of the formerly rebel-held city of Aleppo last year. Raja Abdulrahim reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Sexual violence against men and boys has been widespread during the Syrian conflict, cuts proposed by the Trump administration to the 2018 international affair budget would worsen the situation, Sarah Chynoweth explains at the Guardian.
The Trump administration has ceded control of post-conflict planning in Syria to Russia and has not done enough to exact concessions from Putin on its core interests, in particular curbing Iran’s role in the region. Michael Crowley writes at POLITICO.
An analysis of the significance of Putin’s meeting with Assad and the dynamics of their relationship is provided by Nick Paton Walsh at CNN.
The U.S. Treasury imposed further sanctions against North Korea yesterday and targeted Chinese individuals and entities doing business with Pyongyang, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the U.S. is “steadfast” in its “determination to maximize economic pressure” to isolate the country. The sanctions were not directly connected to Monday’s decision to designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. decision to re-designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism was a “serious provocation and violent infringement,” North Korea’s state K.C.N.A. news agency said today, Reutersreporting.
China’s Foreign Ministry said today that it opposes unilateral sanctions in response to the U.S. Treasury announcement, Reuters reports.
North Korea violated the 1953 armistice ending the hostilities in the Korean War by pursuing a North Korean soldier who defected to the South last week, according to the findings of the U.S.-led U.N. Command, a spokesperson saying today that it had notified North Korea of the violations. Joshua Berlinger reports at CNN.
The decision to re-designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism has undermined hopes in the region of talks and diplomacy leading to a de-escalation of tensions, analysts said yesterday, also noting that sanctions would be unlikely to make a real impact and that it may make diplomacy more difficult. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.
The Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said that he would “hold off” from handing in his resignation during a meeting with the Lebanese President Michel Aoun today, making the statement after an extraordinary series of events following Hariri’s unexpected resignation announcement on Nov. 4 in a televised broadcast from the Saudi capital of Riyadh, citing the role of Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah political and militant ally as the reason behind his decision.
“Today I presented my resignation to the president and he urged me to hold onto it for more dialogue about its reasons and its political underpinnings,” Hariri explained in a televised speech today, Al Jazeera reports.
Hariri made the announcement after returning to Lebanon yesterday and there has been speculation over the circumstances of his resignation, including whether he was pressured by Saudi Arabia to resign and whether the Kingdom had restricted his freedom of movement for two weeks. Erika Solomon reports at the Financial Times.
It remains unclear whether Hariri will rescind his resignation, his return to Beirut comes following intense diplomacy by the French President Emmanuel Macron and trips to Egypt and Cyprus for meetings with their leaders. Louisa Loveluck and Suzan Haidamous report at the Washington Post.
An Iranian national was charged by the F.B.I. yesterday for his alleged hacking of H.B.O.’s computer network, adding that the hacker had “worked on behalf of the Iranian military” to target Israeli infrastructure and nuclear software systems. Devlin Barrett reports at the Washington Post.
Iran enjoys the upper hand in every confrontation with Saudi Arabia across the Middle East, the aggressive approach by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is unlikely to achieve a turn-around unless Saud Arabia’s allies are engaged and the Kingdom embarks on a “steep learning curve in the methods of political and proxy warfare.” Jonathan Spyer writes at Foreign Policy.
The Islamic State group carried out a truck bomb at a market in northern Iraq yesterday, killing at least 17 people and demonstrating a return to insurgency tactics as the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate crumbles. Ghassan Adnan and Isabel Coles report at the Wall Street Journal.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. There were no reported strikes conducted on Nov. 19 in Iraq or Syria. [Central Command]
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team have been quizzing Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner about his interactions with foreign leaders during the presidential transition, according to source familiar with the matter, the questions include Kushner’s possible involvement in efforts to intervene in a controversial U.N. resolution passed in December 2016 that condemned the construction of Israeli settlements. It is unclear why Mueller’s team – which is investigating connections between the Trump campaign and Russia – has been asking about the U.N. resolution, Peter Nicholas, Aruna Viswanatha and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.
The former C.E.O. of private military contractor Blackwater, Erik Prince, is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee next week as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Prince has been under scrutiny since the Washington Post reported that the U.A.E. brokered a secret meeting between Prince and a Russian close to Putin shortly before Trump’s inauguration. Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.
“Critical data” was destroyed when Russian hackers breached the Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) system in the lead up to the 2016 election, the interim D.N.C. chair Donna Brazile said in an interview yesterday, the D.N.C. has pushed back on the comments saying that there was “no evidence the voter file was compromised.” Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
The U.S. would like the Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) to keep their offices in Washington open, the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said yesterday, adding that the Department are in contact with Palestinian officials amid doubts over the status of the office after the Trump administration threatened to close it due to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s call for Israeli officials to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against Palestinians. Reuters reports.
The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson overruled recommendations from an annual human-trafficking report, prompting State Department officials to write a memo criticizing Tillerson for failing to include three countries in a list of those who recruit and use child soldiers. Nauert defended the Secretary of State yesterday, saying that he had based his decision on the “technical” merits of each case, Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.
The U.S. efforts to revive the Asian “Quad” alliance must overcome obstacles to cooperation, specifically the reluctance of India to work with the U.S., Japan and Australia. Sanjeev Miglani writes at Reuters.
Zimbabwe’s leader Robert Mugabe resigned yesterday ending 37 years of rule, the former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa will be sworn in as the new president later this week. Euan McKirdy and Dominique van Heerden report at CNN.
“We congratulate all Zimbabweans who raised their voices and stated peacefully and clearly that the time for change was overdue,” the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement yesterday, Olivia Beavers reporting at the Hill.
The former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladić has been convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (I.C.T.Y.) today and has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Owen Bowcott and Julian Borger report at the Guardian.
A U.S. airstrike killed more than 100 al-Qaeda-backed al-Shabaab militants in Somalia yesterday, according to the Defense Department’s U.S. Africa Command, Jessica Donati reports at the Wall Street Journal.
A U.S. Navy transporter plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan, the Navy’s 7th Fleet said today, eight of the eleven crew members have been rescued. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.
More remains from the body of Sgt. La David T. Johnson were discovered on Nov. 12, the Pentagon revealed yesterday, making the discovery weeks after four Special Forces members in Niger were killed in an ambush and raising further questions about the incident. Alex Horton reports at the Washington Post.
The U.S. military has carried out two airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Libya over the past few days, the U.S. Africa Command said in a statement yesterday, Reuters reporting.
Some Afghan lawmakers and provincial representatives have expressed concern about the U.S.-Afghan air campaign on Taliban-run opium-production plants which was announced Monday, saying that the operations were misplaced, have led to civilian suffering and that the U.S. should focus on Afghanistan’s borders with Pakistan and Iran where the transit of drugs are facilitated. Pamela Constable reports at the Washington Post.
The Uranium One deal “was not a scandal” and the allegations that the Clintons played a nefarious role in the deal, which allowed a Russian state-owned company to extract uranium from the U.S., have been widely undermined. John Ritch writes at the New York Times.
Russia’s upper house today approved a bill allowing authorities to designate foreign media operating in the country as “foreign agents,” the bill was in response to a recent similar measure taken by the U.S., Reuters reports.
The acting U.S. attorney in the case against Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab said that claims that the prosecution was “being driven by domestic Turkish politics” were “ridiculous,” adding that prosecutors were not connected in any way to the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen who has been accused by the Turkish government of being the mastermind behind last year’s failed coup in Ankara. Benjamin Weiser reports at the New York Times.
An analysis of Trump’s potential picks for the Supreme Court following a “refreshed” list of names is provided by S.M. at the Economist.
Read on Just Security »
Business Insider Australia–Nov 5, 2017
Washington Examiner–Nov 18, 2017
Not everyone following the Trump-Russia scandal fully grasps this, but it’s always been all about sanctions. The United States placed heavy sanctions against Russia in 2012 after Putin and his cronies murdered a Russian dissident named Sergei Magnitsky in 2009. Those sanctions have since personally cost Putin billions of dollars, and his oligarchs have all suffered financially from it as well. When Putin installed Donald Trump into the Oval Office, his primary goal was to get those sanctions lifted. Instead that plan has backfired, and the U.S. is enacting even harsher sanctions against Russia in retaliation for election meddling. That leads us to the events of this past week.
It all started when a pair of major British newspapers simultaneously ran stories claiming that Vladimir Putin is considering quitting in early 2018 so that he doesn’t have to undergo the rigors of running for reelection. These stories were both farces, because Putin has always rigged the elections he’s run in, and therefore he doesn’t need to go through any such rigors. But these two stories were planted in the media by someone. It had to have been done by the Russian oligarchs, and it had to have been for the purpose of letting Putin know that he’s on notice.
This week it was revealed that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin spoke by phone for more than an hour on Tuesday, just ten days after they held a lengthy private meeting in Asia. This suggests they’re both in panic mode, and they’re trying to calibrate their emergency responses. If the oligarchs do decide to take Putin down in order to get the United States to ease Russian sanctions, they’ll take Trump down in the process as well. We could be looking at the Pee Pee Tape after all.
The post Fed-up Russian oligarchs seem ready to take down Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump bothappeared first on Palmer Report.
For reasons known only to him, Robert Mueller is investigating the role that Donald Trump’s son-in-law played in a United Nations vote about Israel during the transition period, according to a new Wall Street Journal report (link). Good luck figuring out why, because there’s no context for this new revelation, and we’ve gotten nothing up to this point that would help us understand it. Simply put: Mueller knows things we don’t.
Whenever something has occasionally leaked from Mueller’s camp, it’s usually only because he strategically wants it to leak, and only after he already has a complete handle on the situation. In other words, he believes he already has Jared Kushner nailed on whatever supposed or alleged crime is involved with this United Nations vote – and now he wants Kushner to know that he knows. The end goal here is to force Kushner to cut a deal against Donald Trump, and we’re now seeing this strategy play out.
Moreover, if Robert Mueller is taking this kind of ultra-comphrehensive approach to investigating and pursuing an underling like Kushner, it means he’s taking every bit as detailed of an approach when it comes to pursuing Donald Trump. In other words, by the time we see a headline about Mueller pursuing Trump for money laundering or conspiracy against the United States, it’ll mean that Mueller believes he already has Trump nailed on those crimes. This probe runs far deeper than we ever imagined – and it’s progressed far ahead of where we thought.
The post Revealed: Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump and his cronies runs far deeper and wider than we ever imagined appeared first on Palmer Report.
How did 1917 change the west?
Failed utopias lead to the death of idealism, and the likes of Putin and Trump are symbols of thisprocess. As we watch … Slipping into the first person – reckoning with my place in the order of things – allows me to admit another awkwardness that …and more »
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators are looking into White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his contact with foreign leaders, according to a new report.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Mueller’s team is probing Kushner’s involvement in the controversy surrounding a U.N. resolution passed in December 2016 that condemned Israeli settlement construction.
Trump, who was president-elect at the time, called for the US to veto the resolution, saying the resolution was “extremely unfair to all Israelis.”
The UN Security Council passed the resolution days later as the US abstained from vetoing it.
The Journal reports that Israeli officials reached out to several top officials involved in Trump’s transition, including Kushner and former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, and that Mueller’s probe is asking questions about those overtures.
Mueller’s investigators are also looking into Kushner’s role in setting up meetings and communication with foreign leaders during Trump’s transition, according to the Journal.
Earlier this month, it was reported that Kushner turned over documents to Mueller’s team as the special counsel began looking into his role in Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey.
Kushner has repeatedly figured into the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election due to his presence at meetings last year with Russian officials and representatives. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that Mueller was looking into the Kushner’s business dealings and finances.
Kushner held two meetings with Russians in the month before Trump took office — one with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and another with Sergey Gorkov, the chairman of a state-owned Russian bank.
Kushner, alongside Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump Right way and wrong way Five things to know about the elephant trophies controversy MOREJr. and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, also attended a meeting during the 2016 election at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The senior adviser has also come under fire for repeatedly updating his security clearance disclosure form to include more than 100 names of foreign contacts he’s held meetings or had contact with.
Kushner has denied any wrongdoing or improper communications with Russia during the 2016 election.
Mueller is turning up the heat on Jared Kushner
Jared Kushner White House Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner arrives to address Congressional interns at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law …
Mueller investigating Kushner’s communication with foreign leaders: reportThe Hill
“Kelly Has Clipped his Wings”: Jared Kushner’s Horizons Are Collapsing within the West WingVanity Fair
Kushner Worried Mueller’s Probe Would ‘Get’ President TrumpNewsweek
New York Daily News –Wall Street Journal –Washington Examiner –The Week Magazine
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The Hill–Nov 19, 2017
Washington Examiner–7 hours ago
Last week, the State Department declined to renew the permit for the office operated by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington. The PLO is viewed in the international community as the official representative of the Palestinians.
“What is the use of holding any meetings with them when they close our office? Our meetings begin from our office, and the arrangements are there,” Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told AFP news agency Tuesday.
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“In practice by closing the office they are freezing all meetings and we are making that official.”
The note sent by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday to official departments and embassies said that “any meeting with an American official is banned regardless of the reason until they back down and treat us fairly,” Bloomberg reported.
The decision means that no Palestinian official will be able to meet with President Donald Trump, his key Middle East adviser Jason Greenblatt, or his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who has been tasked with trying to find a solution to the conflict, while the temporary freeze is in place.
A PLO official and an official in Abbas’ office were not available for comment. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on the reports. A State Department official, not authorized to comment publicly on the matter, told Newsweek in an email, “We continue to be in contact with Palestinian officials about the status of the PLO office in Washington as well as about our larger efforts to advance a lasting and comprehensive peace. These discussions are ongoing.”
In this handout image provided by the Palestinian Press Office, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Jared Kushner, senior adviser to President Donald Trump in Ramallah, West Bank, on June 21. Thaer Ghanaim/PPO via Getty
The justification for closing the office is that the Palestinians are threatening to submit cases to the International Criminal Court (ICC) about Israel and alleged war crimes.
Rights groups have condemned what they say is the Palestinians’ right to seek an ICC decision on Israel’s conduct during the seven-week 2014 Gaza War, in which its forces were accused of not taking adequate measures to protect civilian live. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the ground invasion and aerial bombing of the territory known as Operation Protective Edge. Israel says many of those killed were militants.
“The U.S. threat to close the PLO’s mission in Washington as punishment for seeking justice at the ICC makes any U.S. commitment to justice for serious crimes seem at best selective,” said Omar Shakir, the rights group’s researcher on the conflict.
“Ongoing impunity for such crimes during Israel’s 50-year-occupation stands as a major barrier to a durable, just peace. The Trump administration should stop pressuring Palestine to abandon support for a credible, long overdue path to justice.”
Trump, who has said he wants to strike the “ultimate deal” in negotiating a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians after decades of conflict, now has 90 days to decide if “the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel,” and perform a U-turn on the decision to close the office.
Trump and his advisers have reportedly begun work on a Middle East peace plan that seeks to end years of stalemate in part fueled by Israel’s continued military occupation of parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian failure to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in nature, as well as what Israel says is incitement for attacks against Jews.
By Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.
It’s perhaps hard to remember now, but it wasn’t long ago when Trump handed Kushner a comically broad portfolio that included plans to reinvent government, reform the V.A., end the opioid epidemic, run point on China, and solve Middle East peace. But since his appointment, according to sources, Kelly has tried to shrink Kushner’s responsibilities to focus primarily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And even that brief appears to be creating tensions between Kushner and Kelly. According to two people close to the White House, Kelly was said to be displeased with the result of Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia last month because it took place just days before 32-year-old Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman arrested 11 Saudi royals, including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The Washington Post reported that Kushner and M.B.S., as the prince is known, stayed up till nearly 4 a.m. “planning strategy,” which left Kelly to deal with the impression that the administration had advance knowledge of the purge and even helped orchestrate it, sources told me. (Asked about this, Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, in part: “Chief Kelly and Jared had a good laugh about this inquiry as nothing in it is true.”)
Where this all leaves Kushner in Trump’s ever-changing orbit is a topic that’s being discussed by Republicans close to the White House. During Kelly’s review of West Wing operations over the summer, the chief of staff sought to downsize Kushner’s portfolio, two sources said. In the early days of the administration, sometimes with the help of a small cadre of Ivy League whiz kids who staff his Office of American Innovation, Kushner dreamed up scores of business “councils” that would advise the White House. “The councils are gone,” one West Wing official told me. With some of their purview being whittled away, “they seem lost,” the official added.
As Kushner’s Russia troubles mount—last Friday the Senate disclosed that he had not turned over e-mails about WikiLeaks, a claim his attorney, Abbe Lowell, denied—insiders are again speculating, as my colleague Emily Jane Fox reported last month, about how long Kushner and Ivanka Trump will remain in Washington. Despite Kushner’s efforts to project confidence about Robert Mueller’s probe, he expressed worry after the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates about how far the investigation could go. “Do you think they’ll get the president?” Kushner asked a friend, according to a person briefed on the conversation.
According to two Republicans who have spoken with Trump, the president has also been frustrated with Kushner’s political advice, including his encouragement to back losing Alabama G.O.P. candidate Luther Strange and to fire F.B.I. Director James Comey, which Kushner denies. (For what it’s worth, Kushner’s choice of Strange prevented Trump from the embarrassment of inadvertently supporting Roy Moore.) Trump, according to three people who’ve spoken to him, has advocated for Jared and Ivanka to return to New York in part because they are being damaged by negative press. “He keeps pressuring them to go,” one source close to Kushner told me. But as bad as the Russia investigation may be, it’s not clear a New York homecoming would be much better for Kushner, given that his family’s debt-ridden office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue could be headed for bankruptcy.
This article has been updated to include a comment from the White House.
- President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has reportedly landed in Mueller’s crosshairs.
- Mueller’s team has begun to question witnesses about some of Kushner’s conversations and meetings with foreign leaders during the transition.
- Investigators are also homing in on Kushner’s role in pushing Trump to fire former FBI Director James Comey in May.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is turning up the heat on President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, as he examines potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey in May.
Mueller’s team has reportedly questioned witnesses about some of Kushner’s conversations and meetings with foreign leaders during the transition, when he famously hosted former Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at Trump Tower and asked whether it would be possible to set up a backchannel line of communication to Moscow.
Kislyak then orchestrated a meeting between Kushner and the CEO of Russia’s Vnesheconombank, Sergei Gorkov, who was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in January 2016 as part of a restructuring of the bank’s management team, Bloomberg reported last year.
The Kremlin and the White House have provided conflicting explanations for why Kushner met with Gorkov. Reuters reported earlier this year that the FBI is examining whether Gorkov suggested to Kushner that Russian banks could finance Trump associates’ business ventures if US sanctions were lifted or relaxed.
Federal investigators are also examining Kushner’s role in blocking a UN resolution that would have condemned Israel for building settlements in disputed territories, according to The Wall Street Journal, and whether Kushner advised Trump to fire Comey last spring. Kushner reportedly gave Mueller’s team documents related to Comey’s firing earlier this month.
Four people told The Journal that Kushner “pushed” Trump to fire the former FBI director in conversations with the president and his top advisers. His lawyer, Abbe Lowell, downplayed Kushner’s involvement.
“When the president made the decision to fire FBI Director Comey, Mr. Kushner supported it,” Lowell said in a statement.
Kushner has come under heightened scrutiny since last week, when the Senate Judiciary Committee said he forwarded emails about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” to Trump campaign officials and failed to produce those emails to lawmakers investigating Russia’s election interference.
Additional emails that he failed to turn over, according to the committee, involved communication with the anti-secrecy agency WikiLeaks and with a Belarusian-American businessman named Sergei Millian. Millian most recently headed a group called the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.
The Journal reported in September that members of Trump’s legal team wanted Kushner to resign from his position as a senior adviser because of his controversial meetings with Russian nationals during the election and his initial failure to disclose them on his security clearance form.
Kushner has had to revise the form several times, at one point adding more than 100 foreign contacts that he initially failed to disclose. He still does not have a permanent security clearance, which experts say is rare for a senior official who has been in the White House for nearly a year.
They began pushing for his ouster when they became aware of Kushner’s attendance at a meeting organized by his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower last June with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin. Kushner was the only one at the meeting who currently holds a White House job.
One of Trump’s main lawyers in the probe, John Dowd, told The Journal that he “didn’t agree” with some of his colleagues’ view that Kushner should resign.
“I thought it was absurd,” Dowd said. “I made my views known.”
In an 11-page statement provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee in late July detailing his Russian contacts during the campaign and transition period, Kushner said he “did not recall” the meeting with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin until he began “reviewing documents and emails in response to congressional requests for information.”
Investigators employed by special counsel Robert Mueller are looking into presidential adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner’s conversations with Israeli officials during the presidential transition process, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Last December, the Obama administration chose not to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution that was critical of Israeli settlement construction. In the run-up to that vote, Israeli leaders reportedly made contact with several top Trump officials, including Kushner and Steve Bannon, in order to get Trump to help stop either the vote or the Obama administration’s plan not to veto it. Those contacts are the one of the subjects of Mueller’s line of inquiry, the Journal reported.
Kushner, whom President Trump charged with forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, is known to be close with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who once slept in Kushner’s childhood bedroom.
Mueller’s team is reportedly also looking at Kushner’s role in setting up other meetings and discussions with foreign leaders during the presidential transition, as well as his role in the firing of FBI director James Comey.
Kushner encouraged Trump to fire Comey, according to multiple reports. The president reportedly now blames him for giving him that advice, which ultimately lead to Mueller’s appointment.
While inquiries about the Israeli government may seem far removed from Mueller’s mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Journal noted that “investigators typically ask a host of questions over the course of a probe, and inquiries don’t necessarily indicate suspicion. Mr. Kushner figures into several events that Mr. Mueller is investigating, including a June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer at Trump Tower” — which Kushner originally failed to disclose on his security clearance forms.
Contact Aiden Pink at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @aidenpink
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US Navy plane carrying 11 crashes into Pacific Ocean off Japan
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MOSCOW — Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 55.
Hvorostovsky’s office said in a statement Wednesday that the acclaimed singer “died peacefully” earlier and was “surrounded by family” near his home in London.
“May the warmth of his voice and his spirit always be with us,” the statement said.
Diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2015, the beloved Russian baritone had all but given up live performances. In June, the Vienna State Opera announced that he had cancelled all upcoming performances.
Hvorostovsky made an unscheduled appearance in front of a rapturous audience at Metropolitan Opera in New York in May to perform an aria from Rigoletto, one of his trademark parts.
The island’s pitch was given during the sixth annual Marijuana Business Conference & Expo, a major industry event, held this year in Las Vegas.
“The medical cannabis industry survived Hurricane María. This puts this industry in a privileged position, and at DDEC [Spanish acronym for the Economic Development & Commerce Department] we believe we had to let the world know. Therefore, through the Puerto Rico Medical Cannabis Association [PRMCA] we backed a commercial mission to present Puerto Rico as an investment destination and an ideal international market for medicinal cannabis,” Laboy said in a written statement.
“This effort also served to demonstrate to the pioneers and connoisseurs of this market, who gathered to discuss the latest trends in the industry, that Puerto Rico is up, strengthened and ready to develop this industry so it represents opportunities for the country’s economic growth, generates jobs and provides alternatives for medical treatment to so many patients who need relief from their chronic conditions,” the official added.
Laboy Rivera said that after Hurricane María, the cannabis market, like other industries, faced challenges to be able to conserve crops and continue distribution, as well as working on an ecosystem that involves manufacturing, cultivation, laboratories, dispensaries and education.
“It is extremely important and necessary to deliver the message that Puerto Rico has taken measures to protect the industry and is doing everything necessary to continue developing it at the highest level of quality and competitiveness,” the secretary said.
He added that, during the event, funds were also raised to subsidize the cost of medicine for patients registered in the Medical Cannabis Program in Puerto Rico and to have new patients join it free of cost.
The effort is supported by celebrities such as Montel Williams, a multiple sclerosis patient and Emmy-winning TV personality who, through his LenitivLabs, established a fundraising alliance with the PRMCA.
“We have the ecosystem ready to continue with the production of medicinal cannabis to supply local demand and forge alliances with international business people, which will result in new investments for Puerto Rico. This industry has many opportunities to continue growing, develop new businesses related to this activity and become a significant source of jobs for the country,” PRMCA President Ingrid Schmidt said.
According to PRMCA estimates, the cannabis industry in Puerto Rico has generated more than $35 million for the economy and more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs in its short development period.
According to Health Department reports, there are about 12,000 PRMCA-registered patients, who are being treated for epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia, arthritis and cancer, among other conditions.
Moscow’s hostile actions are driven by the belief that Russia is already in a state of conflict with the West, led by the United States, and that the internet is a domain for waging this conflict. From the earliest stages of the internet’s development, Russia has held a starkly different view from the West of its benefits and its potential. Russia’s national security establishment immediately saw connectivity as a threat and a potential weapon—and eventually as one that could help achieve regime change and deprive a country of its sovereignty—rather than as an enabler of economic development.
The organization of Russia’s information-warfare capabilities, which include cyber operators, media outlets, and false flag entities, is shrouded in secrecy. In the West, generally only the intelligence community has a clear picture of how Russian capabilities are directed. Barring the sudden appearance of a Russian counterpart to Edward Snowden, the only view into Russia’s information toolbox is provided by cybersecurity companies and criminal prosecutions. The picture is further muddied because the Russian government keeps many of its cyberwarfare actors at arm’s length by employing contractors and former criminals through middlemen, giving Moscow a degree of deniability if caught.
Nevertheless, both Western governments and private industry can take steps to mitigate Russian influence operations. Western governments should swiftly and decisively denounce Russian information activities as soon as they are identified, and their counterintelligence agencies should identify quantitative means to measure the effectiveness of Russia’s methods. Social media companies should more aggressively police their platforms for malicious state-sponsored content, and they should work with news organizations to promote verified and fact-checked content on their platforms.
Russia’s long-standing, overall foreign policy objective is to weaken adversaries, particularly countries on its periphery, those in NATO, and the United States, by any means available, and its information warfare targets social cohesion and political systems toward this aim. During the twentieth century, the Soviet Union exploited freedom of expression in the West by planting and spreading fake news stories. In the last decade, the rise of social media has made this task vastly simpler. And at least since 2016, Moscow has also exploited the sophisticated advertising networks used by legitimate companies and political campaigns to precisely target audiences for disinformation.
Russia worked toward this objective during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, when Russian agents combined technical and psychological measures to sway U.S. voters away from Hillary Clinton and toward Donald J. Trump. Hackers obtained documents and selectively released them to embarrass the Clinton campaign, while their carefully targeted social media operations denigrated Clinton and boosted the Trump agenda.
Russia attempted similar campaigns during the French election in May 2017, but a forewarned French government and media meant that the activities met with only limited technical success and had no significant bearing on the election result. French law prohibits candidates from campaigning and the media from quoting candidates or campaign officials within forty-four hours of a presidential vote. That prevented the French media from disclosing the contents of emails leaked from Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in the hours before the vote. French media users also tend to get their news from traditional outlets rather than social media, which further limited the leak’s effectiveness.
It is harder to discern whether or how Russia meddled in the German elections in September 2017. One possible explanation is that after the French experience, Russia chose not to interfere in Germany; another is that Russia did attempt to interfere, but the techniques used were more subtle and are not yet fully understood. (Many of the implements used in the U.S. election are only becoming widely known a year after the event.) But even if Russia’s potential election manipulation is unsuccessful or entirely absent, just its suggestion is enough to cause uncertainty and doubt about the democratic process and hence meet Russia’s objectives.
Russian attempts to sow discord are not confined to elections. Attempts to meddle in U.S. internal affairs have continued since the election. Most recently, Russian internet trolls published divisive messages on social media in response to the controversy over NFL players’ kneeling during the national anthem. According to the research group Alliance for Securing Democracy, more than six hundred Russian-backed accounts promoted hashtags aimed at fueling the debate.
The digital processing of personal data, including browsing history and consumer spending, enables anyone to precisely target selected groups and individuals by geographic location and socioeconomic status. In particular, malicious actors are able to show contradictory messages to different groups of users, categorized by political, ethnic, religious, or demographic characteristics, in order to play on existing tensions within target societies. Information is slowly emerging about the extent to which this method was employed by Russian-linked entities during and after the U.S. presidential election, but its overall effect remains unclear.
Cyber-enabled disinformation can have a measurable objective and effect. One method is for hackers to insert false reports in genuine media outlets. For example, in May 2017, a malicious actor suspected to be from Russia compromised the website of a Qatari state media outlet to attribute to the emir of Qatar remarks praising Iran. This triggered a diplomatic row between Qatar and its neighbors.
The social media ecosystem provides an ideal environment for hostile information campaigns. The more incendiary the information is, the more likely it is to go viral. Many users have lost trust in established news outlets, and they tend to consume information that affirms, rather than informs, their views.
Russia has no need to create new divisions in target societies when it can exploit already-existing fault lines. For example, Russian-backed efforts amplified the controversy about the NFL and the national anthem by promoting the most divisive and extreme voices in the debate. Now, as during the Cold War, the strongest defense against malign Russian influence is to identify the divisions and social ills that provide Russia with leverage. Remedies to these problems are complex and require significant resources and time. However, the Trump administration has shown little interest in confronting Russian cyber operations, and the president himself is actively engaged in the divisive use of social media.
Western states also depend on multinational corporations to constrain information warfare operations. Immediately after the election, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other tech companies denied that their services could have been manipulated by disinformation campaigns. More recently, though, they have acknowledged the scope of Russian operations and have been working with third parties to flag fake news, and they have rolled out technological fixes to counter disinformation and provided limited data on the source of advertisement purchases. Critics in the media and Congress have argued that these companies’ responses have been “frankly inadequate on almost every level” and are unlikely to succeed.
Although the Trump administration seems unlikely to pursue action against Russian information operations, there are steps the U.S. Congress and other governments should consider.
Awareness of the challenge of Russian information warfare is the most potent defense against it. Western nations were initially slow to respond to the multifaceted nature of Russia’s developing online capabilities. The focus in the West was almost exclusively on countering technical threats delivered through cyberspace, such as economic crime, espionage, and attacks on critical infrastructure. This approach neglected the additional capabilities that Russia was building up in other areas of information warfare.
More recently in Europe, however, increasing awareness of the threat has enabled society, media, and governments to put appropriate defenses in place. In Germany, public awareness and interest in hostile information operations had been aroused by the “Lisa” case, in which Russia attempted to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment. The media blackout in France helped blunt the effect of Russia’s interference in the presidential election; but Macron’s campaign was also aware of Russia’s attempts to influence the outcome and took countermeasures. Leaders in other Western nations should be open and outspoken about the nature of the challenge, as doing so has been shown to be highly effective in raising public awareness and decreasing potential targets’ susceptibility to information operations.
Another essential step to countering information warfare is for governments targeted by Russian influence operations to develop a metric of damage that acknowledges a range of objectives, including influencing elections. Countries including the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom have made little visible effort to quantify the success and effectiveness of Russia’s subversion and disinformation campaigns. This raises the risk that targeted governments could misdirect resources and countermeasures against ineffective threats that could reasonably be simply monitored, while overlooking other threats that could cause actual harm.
Once harmful information operations are identified, targeted states should quickly denounce them, both to minimize their effectiveness and to deter other actors that might want to conduct Russian-style operations. Policymakers should also warn other states tempted to combine cyberattacks with social media manipulation that exposure and response will be much more rapid and effective than they were in the 2016 election.
On computers, antivirus software monitors the integrity of critical systems and processes, assessing whether they have been affected by malicious data introduced from outside. Governments should develop an analogous system of identifying sources of misinformation and mapping how they influence online discourse and public opinion. This would allow them to properly assess any effect of Russian subversion on public debate. While the government agency that would conduct this monitoring would vary among countries, in each case the security and counterintelligence agencies responsible for protecting the security and integrity of state systems would need to provide support. The costs involvedin implementing such measures would be a disincentive for any Western government, but they should be weighed against the costs of the loss of political legitimacy, integrity, or, indeed, sovereignty.
Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have an important role to play in mitigating the effects of Russian messaging, but their primary objective is generating profits, not defending Western political systems. Attempts to introduce legislation or regulations to restrict online speech, even if they were targeted at Russian disinformation and trolls, could mirror Russian constraints on free expression and could be interpreted as running counter to the values Western societies seek to defend. Nevertheless, tech platforms have an interest in taking firm steps to prevent, for example, the hijacking of profiles of legitimate organizations and individuals for the purpose of disinformation. They also have an interest in cooperating with Western intelligence agencies, as this could provide them with greater understanding of how their systems are abused to systematically deceive their users, as well as of software bugs and other technical vulnerabilities in their products.
To address the specific problem of disinformation, social media companies should continue partnering with journalists and fact-checkers to build trust, even though this is only effective for media-literate users who take the time and effort to assess the legitimacy of sources. The extent that governments can guide such efforts will vary among countries, depending on their constitutional systems and media cultures. In the United States, for instance, the First Amendment greatly limits what the U.S. government can do to vet online media. But where government action is permissible, national media bodies, such as the United Kingdom’s Independent Press Standards Organization and the Office of Communications, should implement proposals for an open review and verification system for online media with the aim of establishing a gold standard for fact-checking and objectivity. Whichever approach countries choose to take, they should recognize that any anti-disinformation system needs protection against the same kind of gaming and abuse as any other open forum to which Russia has access.
To combat the particular challenge of how human psychology is exploited by social media disinformation, governments’ responses should be as interesting as the fake news they are countering. Simple explanations that a particular piece of news is false are not sufficient to engage target audiences. Countermeasures should focus not on fact-checking but on the deceit—emphasizing that people were conned—and, like the original disinformation, should appeal to readers’ emotions rather than their rationality, in order to be effective.
Russian information operations pose a difficult but not insurmountable challenge to targeted governments. But countermeasures should be flexible and adaptable: any success in countering Moscow’s operations will invariably cause the Kremlin to deploy new capabilities. If defenders are not prepared to be alert and agile, they will once more be taken by surprise.
This Cyber Brief is part of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy program. The Council on Foreign Relations takes no institutional positions on policy issues and has no affiliation with the U.S. government. All views expressed in its publications and on its website are the sole responsibility of the author or authors.
New York Times
A Kremlin Defender in Congress Finds Challenges on All Sides
New York Times
WASHINGTON — For two decades, Representative Dana Rohrabacher has been of value to the Kremlin, so valuable in recent years that the F.B.I. warned him in 2012 that Russia regarded him as an intelligence source worthy of a Kremlin code name.
Attempting to get to the bottom of a complex espionage case, untangling multiple strands of secret agentry, is the most challenging exercise in all intelligence work. It taxes the minds of the most gifted counterspies, particularly when the operation extends over years, even decades, and it involves a complex cast of players, some of them Russian.
A half-century ago, when our Intelligence Community was assessing if there were Kremlin moles inside our spy agencies (spoiler: there were), a nasty bureaucratic fight ensued that dragged on for years. The protagonist was James Angleton, the CIA’s top counterspy for two decades, who coined the term “wilderness of mirrors” to describe the impenetrable mystery of certain espionage operations. In typical Angletonian flourish, he borrowed the phrase from a T. S. Eliot poem to capture the enduring mystery of never quite grasping up from down in a case, or knowing who’s really running the show—and looking at it too closely only leads to more confusion.
I’ve previously written about Angleton’s “wilderness of mirrors,” since it remains a fascinating saga still, and I noted how tricky the counterspy game can be:
One of the alluring aspects of counterintelligence is that very complex cases can turn on very small, sometimes minute, pieces of information. And years of getting to the bottom of an operation can be swiftly overturned when one tiny—and possibly very inconvenient—fact comes to light. This is particularly a possibility when what exactly happened in a case proves hard to pin down. As most cases involving the Russians are.
This is relevant today, since between Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and the efforts of our Intelligence Community, the secret side of Washington, D.C., is currently engaged in the biggest counterintelligence investigation since the days of VENONA in the early Cold War, when the FBI and NSA unraveled a vast Kremlin spy apparatus in our country, centered in our nation’s capital.
Seventy years later, it’s the same story, except this time the targets include not just senior White House officials—VENONA revealed that Soviet moles had burrowed deep and high into FDR’s four administrations—but the man in the Oval Office himself. Just exactly what President Donald Trump’s relationship to Moscow is constitutes the cornerstone of the inquiry, and that’s a vexing and complex question, because it requires close examination of Trump’s activities at least going back to 1987, when he took a trip to the Soviet Union.
No part of the investigation has gotten more rubber-necking than any kompromat that the Russians may possess on our president. I’m talking, of course, about the alleged “pee-pee tape” that caught the public’s attention when it was posited by the former British spy Christopher Steele in his now-infamous dossier on Donald Trump, which has become a lightning rod for all sorts of speculation, not necessarily informed.
As I’ve written about the Steele dossier, although a great deal of its raw intelligence has turned out to be true, large portions reek of disinformation— including the most salacious bits. As I explained:
The dossier’s “pee-pee tape” claim is viewed with derision by most Western spies who know the Russians. It’s very likely that the Kremlin possesses kompromat on the president—senior intelligence sources from several countries have confirmed to me that unpleasant videos of Trump exist—yet there’s no reason to believe Steele’s particular claim here, without corroborating evidence.
So, Steele’s porn-worthy allegation appears to be untrue, but the idea that our president has acted out in sexually controversial (and perhaps illegal) ways—and that somebody has filmed it—is taken very seriously by intelligence experts. Ever since Trump announced his candidacy for the White House in June 2015, espionage gossip everywhere has bandied about what might exist to corroborate decades of rumors about Trump’s antics.
It’s plausible that such kompromat exists, given our president’s lifestyle. Forty years ago, when he was partying at Manhattan’s Studio 54 at its cocaine-fueled heyday alongside celebrities and hangers-on (including the just-indicted Paul Manafort and the swinging Roger Stone), it was a wild scene of which Trump boasted: “I would watch supermodels getting screwed, well-known supermodels getting screwed, on a bench in the middle of the room. There were seven of them and each one was getting screwed by a different guy.”
Then there are the allegations that the president’s penchant for pretty girls does not always pay attention to the age of consent. One woman who’s claimed that Trump raped her when she was just 13 years old has repeatedly filed suit against the president, only to drop the case each time, most recently last year. That’s connected to the mysterious case of Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire hedge-funder and convicted sex offender, whose “friends list” reads like a who’s-who of the male half of America’s rich and powerful.
President Trump is on that list, and rumors have swirled for years about his participation in Epstein’s underage sex escapades. There appear to be connections between Epstein’s debased antics and Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort, now termed “the winter White House.” Hard facts remain elusive, however, and perhaps the media’s lack of ardor for getting to the bottom of this sordid case may have something to do with the fact that Epstein’s pals are a powerful bunch—and Bill Clinton is mixed up in this too.
To sum up, the idea that President Trump has been caught on tape doing something sordid is inherently in the realm of the possible. But has he been? Here’s where things get tricky, fast. I’ve investigated this issue for the past couple years. I’ve talked to dozens of well-placed sources (many of them longtime spy-friends), and I can share with you some basic conclusions.
As many as a dozen intelligence services worldwide, on four continents, are in possession of some sort of “Trump tape” featuring sexual escapades of a controversial nature; in some cases, the women involved appear to be underage. Some of these tapes have been shared with the Mueller investigation.
One Western intelligence agency with a solid professional reputation is in possession of an unpleasant Trump tape that they assess “with high confidence” is bona fide, i.e. exactly what it appears to be. They obtained the tape from a trusted source who plausibly had access to it. Over the decades, Trump has traveled widely—including to Russia more than once—and thereby exposed himself to surreptitious filming in numerous countries.
However, here’s the rub: Many of the “Trump tapes” floating around in spy circles worldwide cannot be verified, while some of them are obvious fakes. The Western spy agency that’s holding a Trump tape they’re pretty sure is real has also been approached two other times with tapes that were less solid—and one of them was transparently fake.
It’s obvious to savvy Western counterspies that someone is spreading fake Trump tapes—not all of them high quality—to muddy the waters. The obvious suspect, of course, is the Kremlin. Since the Russians know all about President Trump’s decades of personal antics, including what kompromatexists on him, they appear to be pushing dubious and unverifiable tapes, some of them obviously fake, to create chaos and confusion.
It’s working, and in the current climate, it seems doubtful that any Trump tape can be verified sufficiently to have a mainstream journalistic outfit report its details. After all, with multiple fakes out there, any bona fide tape would require not just rock-solid technical authentication, but also firming up the exact place and date of the incident, plus confirmation from the girl(s) caught on camera too. That seems like an insurmountably high bar to clear at present.
This, then, is yet another successful Kremlin spy operation, one more grand provocation to mess with our Western heads. Although Vladimir Putin is deeply disappointed with President Trump, who has failed to get sanctions lifted off Russia, much less make Washington and Moscow close partners in anything, keeping an increasingly damaged and ineffectual president in the White House, who’s incapable of accomplishing much except rage-tweeting, suits Moscow’s foreign policy needs just fine.
A half-century ago, the Kremlin dispatched multiple dangles and even a fake KGB defector to Washington to confuse American counterspies and, above all, to protect their real moles in our nation’s capital. It worked like a charm. The resulting confusion birthed Angleton’s vaunted “wilderness of mirrors,” and eventually it drove that brilliant and seasoned counterspy over the edge, never to return.
Now, in a more technologically advanced age, the Russians are playing a nearly identical operational game with fake tapes, websites, trolls and bots. The Kremlin appears to have pulled it off again, and it will take years, probably decades, to get to the bottom of the Trump tapes saga—if anybody ever does. Welcome to the Wilderness of Mirrors, Trump Edition.
John Schindler is a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionage and terrorism, he’s also been a Navy officer and a War College professor. He’s published four books and is on Twitter at @20committee.
The brutal attack by an Uzbek man on innocent people walking and riding their bicycles along a park path in New York City highlights an increasing trend for citizens coming from a region of the world most Americans know little about: Central Asia.
Comprised of five mostly Muslim nations with a combined total population of roughly 70 million people, the entire region used to be under the thumb of the Soviet Union. Afghanistan is sometimes included in the regional bloc.
Since independence, those nations’—Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan—national development strategies have worked to put the countries on paths to industrialization.
But with that, and globalization, came the introduction of radicalization, too, no thanks in part to several decades of continuing warfare in Afghanistan. That country has been a magnet for Central Asian young men looking to join the Mujahideen in Afghanistan for decades—first against the Soviets, then the Taliban, and for the last 17 years, against the U.S.
In more recent years, young men from Central Asia, a region with a deep history of strongmen and authoritarian rulers have joined jihadist wars across the Middle East and North Africa, and have become recruitment avenue for the Islamic State.
Twenty-nine year-old Sayfullo Saipov, who mercilessly killed eight people and injured 11 more by driving his Home Depot-rented truck in New York, came to the U.S. in 2010 from Uzbekistan, which is the most populous Central Asian nation and has developed a reputation for its citizens becoming radicalized abroad. But there’s an important distinction to be made, says Dr. John Heathershaw, an associate professor at the University of Exeter in England whose research lies in the political and security environments of the authoritarian governments in Central Asia.
“There is an important geographical distinction here,” Heathershaw told the Observer by email on Wednesday. “This is not radicalization in Uzbekistan, but of Uzbeks. There is a pattern this year of persons having left Uzbekistan many years before with little sign or no sign of militancy, and committing terrorist acts in a more permissive (less authoritarian) environment—Russia, Sweden, Turkey, New York City.”
Heathershaw was referring to incidents this year in which an Uzbek man detonated a suicide bomb on a St. Petersburg, Russia train, leaving 15 dead; another drove a truck into a group of pedestrians in Stockholm, Sweden, killing five; and an Uzbek national, Abdulkadir Masharipov, killed 39 revelers at a nightclub in Istanbul; and then Saipov came along on Tuesday.
Saipov had written a note before his attack pledging his allegiance to the Islamic State.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev offered his country’s support to President Donald Trump on Wednesday. In a knee-jerk reaction, Trump earlier on Wednesday called for the permanent end to the visa lottery program that allowed Saipov to come to the U.S., where he worked various jobs in several states before becoming a tractor-trailer driver.
But using Tuesday’s attack to justify any repercussions is folly, argued Heathershaw.
“This should not lead us to jump to the conclusion that liberal states should imitate autocrats,” Heathershaw said. “A better approach is to recognise that this is a transnational phenomenon and we must look at the relationships between push factors in dictatorships and the pull factors which emerge in more open environments. Also, why so many Uzbeks? Their greater number of migrants? Specific recruitment networks within their migrant communities? Their more repressive environment at home? These are the questions, but I don’t think we don’t have the answers yet.”
Heathershaw said there is a large amount of guesswork in detailing the number of Uzbeks who have joined the Islamic State, but he believes roughly 500 have joined group, seeking a brand of militancy that employs terror as a primary negotiating tactic.
That number comes from The Soufan Center, which publishes an annual report on foreign fighters who join the Islamic State and what countries they originate from before joining the jihad.
On Wednesday it was widely reported that Saipov was found by local investigators to be on the radar of federal agencies. Why then, didn’t the feds act earlier? The answer is complicated, but articulated well in the Soufan Center report.
“Given the numbers involved, the real problem for the authorities is in prioritizing targets, and in establishing what sort of approach to take in each case,” the report, written by Richard Barrett and published in October, said. “When a ‘known wolf’, meaning a terrorism suspect, is able to carry out an attack, it is not necessarily because the authorities are paying no attention; it is more likely because they have decided that their attention should be focused elsewhere. Allocating more resources to security is not always the answer; the focus has to be on reducing the threat to manageable levels rather than increasing the capacity of the State to surveil its citizens, a policy that in any case may be more likely to increase terrorism than to reduce it.”
If heavy-handed nation-state responses to security issues is a primary driver of extremism, what can governments do to curb the problem?
As of now, that’s unclear. It’s a tightrope for each country, but here in the U.S. civil freedoms have been slowly dissipating since our own worst-ever attack in New York on 9/11.
Sixteen years later, we’re still trying to figure out how to handle terrorism.
Les Neuhaus is a National and International Politics contributor for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LesNeuhaus
In a recent Twitter crusade to coax the “haters and fools” into sharing his affinity for a renewed relationship with the Kremlin, President Donald Trump argued why he thinks it’s a “good thing” to get cozy with Moscow: “I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!”
Depends how you define “help.” Russia’s trade with North Korea doubled at the beginning of the yearand the administration has recently acknowledged that Russia helps Pyongyang circumvent sanctions.
Russia also aids the homicidal regime of staunch ally Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs and sarin on civilians. Moscow was focusing airstrikes on enemies of the regime while the non-Assadist Syrian Democratic Forces—who were targeted by Russia in September airstrikes, the Pentagon said—have been the ones fighting and defeating ISIS.
Russia invaded and still occupies part of sovereign state Ukraine, so asking for their “help” there is like asking a burglar to manage the home security system.
And asking Russia to help “solve” terrorism is like asking an arsonist to help with wildfire management.
Gen. John Nicholson, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, told reporters last week that Russia is pushing the “false narrative” of ISIS overrunning the country—there are fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters remaining there, a number that keeps falling, says the U.S. military—in order to justify their support for the Taliban. Linked to that false narrative is Moscow’s yarn that the Taliban are somehow useful minions more into quashing terrorist rivals between their on-again, off-again truces than their unambiguous main goal of crushing democratic Afghanistan and fueling global jihad.
Citing sensitive intelligence, Nicholson would not elaborate on the current nature of Russia’s support. An Afghan commander said last month that they’ve seized Russian weapons and equipment, and a House hearing last week revealed the cache from Russia has included machine guns and other medium-weight weapons.
The Taliban, of course, are longtime kin of al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network; Nicholson said in December that the latter poses “the greatest threat to Americans and to our coalition partners and to the Afghans.” The general also said that Russia’s kinship with the Taliban was intended to “undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort and bolster the belligerents.”
This administration has followed the Obama-era path of not branding the Taliban as the terrorist group they are, because by encouraging a political settlement they’re encouraging negotiations with a terrorist group. But Taliban attacks have killed several U.S. servicemembers this year and many more Afghans.
In late October, the Taliban vowed to let American hostage Kevin King die of his health problems if they don’t get a prisoner swap. King, a professor at American University in Kabul, was kidnapped by gunmen in August 2016. Somehow, we have yet see an enraged “don’t you dare kill our citizen” presidential tweet aimed at the Taliban.
Russia’s terror connections don’t stop in Central Asia. Through Moscow’s unholy alliance with Assad, Hezbollah have occasionally fought alongside Russian soldiers and have used Russian weapons. Hezbollah commanders told The Daily Beast at the start of the year that Russia was supplying them with laser-guided rockets and anti-tank missiles “with no strings attached”—even if Israel is potentially in the cross-hairs.
And Russia and Iran continue to enjoy their multibillion-dollar arms relationship. So unless you trust Iran—the state sponsor of terrorism whose insidious relationship with al-Qaeda became clearer in Osama bin Laden’s recently released documents—and Hezbollah to “solve” the terror they sow, there’s no reason you should trust their enabler to do the same.
Money and manipulation of global crises for the benefit of the Kremlin will always be more important to that regime than altruism and counterterrorism. If help is what you seek, better look elsewhere while the “haters and fools” continue to be realists.
Bridget Johnson is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center and D.C. bureau chief for PJ Media.
Russia Doesn’t ‘Solve’ Terrorism—It Helps It
In a recent Twitter crusade to coax the “haters and fools” into sharing his affinity for a renewed relationship with the Kremlin, President Donald Trump argued why he thinks it’s a “good thing” to get cozy with Moscow: “I want to solve North Korea …
CPJ Press Freedom Online (blog)
Ukraine arrests suspect in 2004 murder of Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov
CPJ Press Freedom Online (blog)
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